Tuesday, February 4, 2014

General Michael Hayden on National Security

General Michael Hayden (ret.) was today's keynote speaker for the University of North Texas' Kuehne Speaker Series on National Security held at the Hyatt Regency Dallas at the foot of the iconic Reunion Tower. Nine coworkers and I went to hear his speech. I don't know what I was expecting but he proved to be an entertaining speaker with experience that gave credence to his insights. He was introduced by H. Ross Perot who doesn't look like he's aged a day since his presidential run.

Gen. Hayden used his 30 minutes to share with us what he felt were some of the fundamental, underlying (he used the term tectonic) phenomena that are influencing global security.

Gen. Michael Hayden (ret.)
First, the planet's bad actors are no longer nation states but much smaller organizations. Of course, the challenge is that the national security apparatus has been designed over the last century to deal with nation states and now must evolve to deal with this new asymmetrical threat. He further clarified that in this new age the bad actors are a byproduct of weak nation states as opposed to old-school aggressive nations.

Second, the world stage on which national security issues play out use to be land, sea, and air - and more recently space. Cyberspace now has become a fifth stage that has to be addressed with equal vigor. The challenge is that the cyber world was designed for convenience and speed and not defensibility. In his words, "cyberspace is a digital Somalia."

Third, we are seeing a broad shift in cultural conventions and one manifestation of that is the goal of transparency in all things government. He shared a question recently posed to one group of his external advisors: "How can the U.S. conduct espionage when transparency is a constant demand?"  The answer was "We don't know." This is not just a demand of the public but also politicians who are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with secrecy.

Fourth, old geopolitical structures are being swept away. We all saw what happened to the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. He asked us to think about the Middle East not in terms of Arabs vs. Israelis but as Sunni vs. Shia. He implied that the Middle East borders defined in the wake of WWII are not as permanent as we sometimes believe.

He gave us a few one-liners:

  • The upcoming winter games in Russia are "Vlad's personal Olympics" and we'll get to see what a city looks like that's run entirely by the KGB.
  • On that crazy Kim family in North Korea - don't attend the family reunion even if invited.
  • China is applying autocratic rule to one of the most widely connected populations on the planet. 
  • There have been idiot privates in every army since the Romans but none had access to more information than Bradley Manning.
And his parting shot was to point out that the biggest change in international policy in the last decade is due to the Marcellus shale and what it (and the energy independence it and related projects) can bring to the United States. When the Middle East can't yank us around by the gas pump anymore the balance of power in that relationship changes radically.

Well worth the drive to big D.

[Update 05 Feb 2014] An article on the event from the Star-Telegram: In Dallas, ex-CIA chief details growing cybersecurity threat.

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